Day 2

The day dawned beautiful in Fairbanks. I tried hard to sleep in, but the booming voice of the road wouldn't let me.  This time it was the James Dalton highway, also known as "The Haul Road" It was Hauling my ass out of bed, even though my better judgement knew to wait for the heat of the day. If there is such a thing north of Fairbanks Alaska in April.  As it turned out, their isn't.

My ego said hit it, and hit it hard and fast, but I knew I had to take my time going north and let it warm up a little. 

In hindsight, I  probably should have taken my time for a little longer. Perhaps another month?

Didn't much matter though, I was committed. I told everybody I was going, and I had already ridden all the way to Fairbanks. 

So, at about 9:30 AM on Saturday April 3rd, 2010 I headed north from Fairbanks on the Elliot highway, actually, I think it is the Steese out of Fairbanks and then tuns into the Elliot. I dont know, I wasn paying much attention to those signs. I was, instead, intensely focussed, on the road, the weather, the BIG trucks, the ice, the mud, and whatever else I feared would take me out. 

As is my custom, I get up the road a few then stop for Breakfast, If I know it is going to be cold, I load up on good carbs (like oatmeal, or pancakes) I don't drink a lot of coffee because it tends to make the insides feel warm while making the outside feel colder.  And caffeine has a tendency to make me need a bathroom, Thought the world is my urinal at times, I have yet to find a nice comfortable tree with a Cabella's catalog.

This time, I stopped  at place called Hill Top. Their sign say "break for pie" and I simply could not resist.  (that and it is the only place for literally hundreds of miles. ) I figured it would be a good place to talk to the truckers about the road. 

I didn't find a trucker, nor did I have pie, however, i did have some wonderful buttermilk pancakes and 2 fabulous raindeer sausages (sorry Santa)

About an hour, one last check of the bike and the gear, and top off the tank, and I got back on the road.  The Elliot highway is freeking awesome! it heads through the kettles, and moraines presumably left by the mighty Yukon. The hills are worn by the ages and feature a carpet of stunted black spruce. One minute your scraping your pegs  in a 200 plus degree sweeping curve, and the next minute your climbing straight to the sky. It's a good road, even with the seasonal frost heaves that I imagine get much worse later on in breakup.

The Hazards are marked well  with blaze orange "road damage" signs, and include patches of gravel or severe broken frost heaves. Some, if not most of the curves have a layer of chip seal that is more than wore down to sticky. I didn't find very many marbles at all, but, I am sure that could change. Every curve is blind, and every hill is also, so it is good to practice judging your stopping distances, and how they relate to road conditions, etc. 

As I mentioned before, the trucks are BIG, Really big, and they drive this road every day so they are not shy. Tough, I didn't see one "truck lane" I did find enough passing areas, to get around as many as i could before the gravel of the Dalton.  Needless to say, they are used to seeing motorcycles, just not in April. 

75 miles from the last truck stop the Dalton begins. So does the road to Manley hot springs. Hot springs sounded really good at this point, but, I came to do the Dalton, so that will have to be an excuse for another ride. 

You can't see it in this photo but the Dalton is in fact gravel. At least most of it is. The Tarmac I encountered up to the Yukon was in good shape for the most part but did have some loose gravel filling what are probably SUV size potholes. 


It is however, much the same as the Elliot, only the twisties are shorter radius, and the climbs and decents are steeper. 

On this day, I found some wet spots, I was pretty worried about that wetness being hard (as is frozen and slippery.  As the road wanders in and out of some spectacular hills, I encountered some switchbacks that probably never see the sun. However, I didn't encounter any ice until just before, and after the Yukon.  Some areas featured teeth chipping washboard. and sometimes that washboard was in corners which will lay a bike down just like gravity works. 

I think I said it was cold. It was VERY cold. I was prepared, but one can only prepare so much for 20 degree whether on a motorcycle. It was about 36 degrees when I left Hill Top, I expected it to get  warmer, instead it got colder as the road climbed into the foothills of the Brooks range.  I switched from my phone as GPS to my Garmin, because it was way more accurate, and feeds me more information. I didn't want to know what the temperature was  but it was good info to have when my Brain kept telling me to keep going.  As it turns out, I didn't see 30 degrees from the start of the Dalton to the Yukon.  Mostly, the temp hovered around 27  with some prolonged dips to as low as 23. And the wind was blowing sometimes from the side, and sometimes head on. When it was head on, it definitely felt like a north wind coming from it's arctic home close by.

I had written in my pre-ride, that one of the hazards of this trip was going to be the cold. Both frostbite, and hypothermia. Anytime a patch of skin exposed itself it let me know, and was covered up quickly. Hypothermia is however a little harder to detect. I did start to feel a chill over my core body [retty early on. Chilbains  are the first detectable sign of hypothermia, but one does not always notice them. I kept very aware of how I was feeling, and thinking.  I did find that stopping (preferably in a windless valley) facing the sun, and walking around helped to warm me up to a certain extent. However, my extremities were prett cold, and it was harder to get them warm. 

I have heated grips, which were run on high the entire trip. I could not feel the heat when the temp was under 30, and the thick gloves that was wearing made them a little less effective. They were pretty nice though when I would stop, take off my gloves and put my hands directly on the hot grips.  If it were not for this, i would have sworn they had failed. 

Another trick I used was to put a couple of those chemical hot packs on the backs of my ands inside my gloves. This helped quite a bit and averted turning around early. 

When I finally arrived at the Yukon, it was all worth it. The bridge is awesome! I don't think I have ever been on a bridge that had a 3% grade before.  and I know I have never been on a bridge over a major river that had wooden planks for decking!

I was lucky, there was nobody coming in either direction so I took a chance, and stopped on the bridge for a few pictures.

The bridge is at least a couple hundred feet above the river at its high end. I would not want to be on it in wind over about 15 mph. Nor would I want to pass one of those trucks while on it. on the way back, I saw a truck coming, and i respectfully waited for him to get across before embarking.  The planks were dry, and ice free but they seemed a little slippery non-the-less. Kind of like grooved pavement

Here are some pictures I took from the North side of the bridge. There is a great nice but CLOSED visitors center, with interpretative signs, and the like. On a warmer day, I would have spent hours. I did take the time to walk to the edge of the river, and do what a man must do when he crosses the Yukon.  Sorry no pictures of that. 

Its' a great, big, broad land way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that fills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace.
                                                            -Robert Service

Thank the Ravens for the decoration. Now we know where they go in April. They follow lonely bikers up the Dalton. 

The moment of truth came at the parking lot just north of the Yukon. When I set up the ride on the GPS, it looked like 149 miles each way. With a little extra thrown in for "margin"  So, I figured on 300. My bike has a pretty reliable range of 220 on 1 tank of gas, and I carries an extra 2 gallons (80 miles worth.) At the Yukon, I had traveled. 140 miles on the tank already. and I had just seen the sign that said the arctic circle was still 60 miles away.  at the Yukon, I did the math 3 times, and came up short every time. I did consider riding past the Arctic Circle to Coldfoot where there may or may not be gas available. That consideration was short lived.  Although I was warming up a bit from being off the bike at the Yukon, I was still cold, and the prospects of adding an extra 3-4 hours to my ride, and perhaps coming back in the cold darkness did not seem prudent.

My ego screamed! Screw it man, "if you have to hitch hike back to the Gas station a couple miles it'll be worth it man". I did the math again. Still short...  After riding north of the Yukon another 5 miles or so, I let discretion be the better part of valor, and turned around. 

I figured the ride back would be warmer, after all, it was the heat of the day, and the wind was sort of at my back, and I was riding facing the sun.  It was not the case. I watched the thermometer closely, after I climbed out of the Yukon valley it dropped back down to 27 and stayed there. I was a little warmer, or at least more numb so I didn't have to stop and warm up as many times. I did stop and take a few pictures more pictures.  The truck traffic seemed a little heavier, but nothing to scary.  All in all I enjoyed the ride back quite a bit. For one, I kind of knew the road, or at least I knew it didn't drop off the end of the world over a blind hill.  The prospects of the hotel hot tub kept my mind off the cold.

Seemingly within miles of the end of the Dalton (still 70 miles from Gas and warmth) the temperature finally did start to climb a little, and slowly. By Hilltop it was almost 40! My low fuel light had not come on by hilltop, and I started to second guess my math again. I purposely didnt fuel up there on the way back because they didn't have premium, and I knew at that point I could make it back to Fairbanks. 

I slammed a Rockstar and made some phone calls to tell everybody that I was back out of the woods.

2 miles back on the road, and my fuel light came on.  I was relieved to know that turning around was the right thing to do.  I pulled into the hotel parking lot at 310 miles for the day. Right were I expected to be and with the reserve fuel I expected, but alas, 110 miles short of my original geographical goal. 

To freaking bad, I was still the first bike on the Dalton in 2010 and I am pretty sure another one won't cross the Yukon for at least a couple weeks. 

I still have 350 miles to ride back to Knik tomorrow. The weather report still looks pretty good except for possible snow around Cantwell. I will post more tomorrow night or Monday morning...

Album HERE
Video HERE
Day 3 HERE
Day 1 HERE